07/03/2012 06:06 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2012

Legacy: Sharing Life Lessons

One significant purpose for writing our legacies is to extract the lessons we've learned from our experience, from our "stories," to pass them forward to future generations. We do this even as we live in the chaos of world politics, a politics that has hijacked religion, using its words and ideas to fill us with fear, destroy basic human rights and terrorize citizens all around the planet.

My memory was tweaked reading Father Richard Rohr online recently. (Father Rohr is a Roman Catholic who taps into deep truths that inform his writing, including his daily e-column (subscription available at

"Interfaith or ecumenical education, which broadens the field from 'my religion which has the whole truth' to 'universal wisdom which my religion teaches in this way'" -- Richard Rohr

So to my memory... We were having lunch, a good friend and I, and our conversation deepened. We spoke of something we'd never discussed, being of different faiths. She said assuredly that her faith's "master story" was the right one and required belief to be saved. I said I thought the reason there are many different faiths, all paths to the divine, was so all people could hear the message expressed in a way they could accept, and that no one path was better or quicker or even more beautiful. Our conversation hit a wall; there was nowhere to go...

We've remained friends, implicitly agreeing not to broach the subject, but I've not forgotten my initial feeling of being "other" and my shock -- about what she said (and what she believed that meant about my future), the powerful energy beneath her words, and my re-eyeopening awareness that others don't necessarily think or believe like I do.

So what have I learned that's worthy to share with my children and grandchildren? Sheepishly, I must acknowledge that there is yet alive and well within me a naive girl who never learned that others think differently. Looking at the world from her perspective limits my curiosity. What's to be curious about if everyone thinks like I do?

Another lesson is about my relationship with those who think differently than I. The mature part of me, secure in my core values, is not threatened by those whose values and beliefs are different from mine. This part of me is learning to be more than just civil to those who differ, to honor diversity, so I can be respectfully curious and seek to understand them. This is a learning in progress: worth practicing, preserving and passing forward to future generations.

The blessing for my loved ones is: to see beyond your own set of beliefs and values, so you can be authentically curious and open to learning about the lives and beliefs of others. In this way your life will be richer, your relationships deeper and more accepting.

This personal example hopefully will support your reflections about your own experience: with difference, with religion and personal values in the midst of our political lives, with authentic curiosity, and with what makes your relationships precious.

Suggestions for action:

1. Consider Richard Rohr's quotation about religion and universal wisdom. Journal your responses for as many days as is fruitful for you. Limit your writing time to 15-20 minutes per writing session.

2. What experiences did your journaling uncover? Your memory may be about your life in today's complex world, or it may have taken you back to your childhood. Choose one story from your life that relates to a spiritual or religious belief or value.

3. Write the story in a paragraph.

4. Here's where we legacy writers are different from memoirists, autobiographers, and storytellers. For us, the story is the outer layer, the hook, that leads us to learning (and a lesson that can be a gift to future generations). The next step is to reflect and write about what you learned from the story/experience. It may not be instantly clear, but if it's remained in your memory, there must be feelings, thoughts, values, lessons captured within the story.

5. Take time to focus on the person you want to know you through your story. What blessing would you offer her/him from your learning? Write the blessing.

6. Limit your writing of a legacy letter to 15 minutes. You already have most of the letter written: the story, the lesson, and a blessing. Write a short introduction explaining the context for the letter. Edit the three elements that you have already drafted to be sure they express your ideas and feelings clearly. Close the letter with your love. Give it to your loved one when the time is appropriate.

7. Continue to journal over days and weeks for other stories and lessons that express who you are and what you value... your most precious gift for future generations.

"May your memories and experiences
bless your loved ones," --Rachael Freed

WATCH FOR new editions in July of Rachael Freed's: Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman, and Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient. She is currently working on Your Legacy Matters: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide to be published early 2013. Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit and Follow her on Twitter:

For more by Rachael Freed, click here.

For more on mindful living, click here.